Category > npb

Talking Perfection

» 04 April 2013 » In npb » 1 Comment

An old interview I did with Sam Miller made it to Baseball Prospectus the other day. Check it out here.

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Spring Training Story Lines

» 03 February 2013 » In npb » 2 Comments

Spring has arrived in Okinawa, and NPB camps are underway. As with every new season, there are a number of stories developing. Here are a few to look out for:

  • How long before Nippon Ham settles on a position for Shohei Ohtani?

Part of Nippon Ham’s pitch to Ohtani was letting him pitch and hit. Ohtani has the physique and high school track record to make this a very interesting idea, but I suspect that reality will eventually settle in and he’ll wind up sticking to his best role. That said, here’s hoping he pulls it off. I’d love to see him come in from right field to close a game.

  • How will top draftee Shintaro Fujinami adapt to life as a pro?

There is no such positional debate about the other high school prize of last year’s draft, Hanshin pitcher Fujinami. The sentiment echoed throughout the Japanese media following the draft was the question of whether Hanshin has the ability to develop a pitcher with the potential of “Mount Fuji”; now we begin to find out.

  • How will Yomiuri draftee Tomoyuki Sugano perform after a year away from competition?

Sugano took a year off in 2012, after his rights were won by the Nippon Ham Fighters in the 2011 draft. Undeterred, the Giants grabbed him uncontested in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he immediately signed. If he’s some approximation of this, the Giants will be quite happy he was insistent on playing for them.

  • Which of the bari bari Major Leaguers will sink and which will swim?

Andruw Jones, Bryan LaHair, Casey McGehee, Jose Lopez, Vincente Padilla and Nyjer Morgan are among this year’s NPB imports. It’s always hard to predict who will do well in Japan, but I’m particularly pessimistic about Padilla and Morgan.

  • Who will step in to Hiroyuki Nakajima’s shoes for Seibu?

History repeats itself. 10 years ago, Nakajima stepped forward as the replacement for star shortstop Kazuo Matsui, who had departed for the Majors. Now Seibu finds itself needing a replacement for Nakajima. It looked like Hideto Asamura could emerge as a successor, but he failed to impress last season. A return to form from speedster Yasuyuki Kataoka would be welcome, and perhaps Esteban German could see time at shortstop.

  • Who is Eddy Rivera?

Billed a “mystery” player, Rivera is in camp with the Chunichi Dragons on a trial basis (“testo sei“). Rivera has Dominican Summer League experience with academy affiliates of the Cardinals and Padres, but hasn’t appeared in a game since 2010.

Rivera stepped off his flight from the Dominican and immediately impressed with his velocity. Chunichi has found Latin American bargains such as Tony Blanco and Enyelbert Soto in recent years, we’ll see if lightning strikes again.

  • Has Orix improved?

Orix recently grabbed headlines for acquiring star outfielder Yoshio Itoi in a trade with Nippon Ham, but has made a couple other interesting moves this offseason. The Buffaloes signed 2B Keiichi Hirano, picked up starter Shun Tono in a trade with Yomiuri, and snagged closer Takahiro Mahara as compensation for losing free agent starter Hayato Terahara. On the negative side of the ledger, the B’s parted ways with talented, but health-challenged starters Terahara Hiroshi Kisanuki, as well as Alfredo Figaro. Orix is still on the outside looking in at a top-3 finish, but if everything goes absolutely right for them, they could make things interesting.

  • Has Yokohama DeNA improved?

DeNA’s offseason largely consisted of poaching Tony Blanco, Jorge Sosa and Enyelbert Soto from Chunichi, getting OF Hitoshi Tamura back from Softbank, and signing Nyjer Morgan. All of these moves, with the probable exception of Morgan, improve the Baystars, but none really addresses the team’s main weaknesses of the starting rotation and middle infield. The real step forward will have to be lead by the ‘Stars young players: 3B Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, C Shuto Takajo, pitchers Yuki Kuniyoshi and Kisho Kagami, and 2012 draftees IF Hiroyuki Shirasaki and pitcher Kazuki Mishima.

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Rakuten To Sign Saito

» 28 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off on Rakuten To Sign Saito

After signing Andruw Jones and Casey McGehee, the word was the that Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were looking to add a third Major Leaguer. According to multiple reports, that expectation has been nearly fulfilled, as Rakuten has agreed to a one-year contract with Takashi Saito, pending a physical. An official announcement is expected as soon as the 29th (JST). According to Sponichi, the deal is worth JPY 30m (US $350k), but will be worth over JPY 100m (US $1.5m) if Saito reaches all his incentive bonuses.

“We want him to perform well and become a symbol of Tohoku’s recovery, and we expect him to pass his Major League experience on to our young players,” commented Rakuten team president Yozo Tachibana.

Sponichi quotes an associate of Saito’s calling this move “the culmination of his baseball life”. It’s certainly move that carries a more symbolism than most free agent signings, as Saito’s home town is Sendai, where Rakuten plays it’s home games. He returns to Japan after a phenomenal seven-year run as an MLB reliever.

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Reports: Rakuten Agrees with McGehee

» 20 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

Multiple reports out of the Japanese media machine say that the Rakuten Golden Eagles have agreed to a contract with third baseman Casey McGehee. I’ll link to the Sankei/MSN report, which tells us that McGehee will get $1.3m on a one-year deal, and quotes Rakuten scouting director Hiroshi Abei as saying that an official announcement would be possible after McGehee completes his physical.

McGehee is Rakuten’s second big signing of the offseason, the first being Andruw Jones. McGehee replaces the released Akinori Iwamura as Rakuten’s third baseman. Yomiuri had also been reportedly interested in acquiring MaGehee.

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Looking at Player Movement Rules

» 17 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

This offseason, I’ve come across three proposals to change the rules governing player personnel. At first glance, it didn’t seem that these ideas are thematically linked, but after giving it some thought, I think they are reflective of a league that is living less in the shadow of a dominant team, the Yomiuri Giants, and more in the shadow of Major League baseball. These ideas seem to be more aimed at retaining talent league-wide than deferring to the local top dog.

  • Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino has suggested that NPB do away with it’s first-round lottery/drawing process and change to a complete waiver process, in which teams select in reverse order of their records.

NPB has experimented a lot with it’s draft procedures over the years, but a concept that’s mostly stuck around is the first round nyusatsu chusen (bid and drawing) system. Under this format, rather than selecting in order, each team chooses the player it wants, and if multiple teams pick the same player, the teams draw cards for his rights. After the first round, the rest of the draft continues with the teams choosing in the order of their records, last to first in even-numbered rounds and first to last in odd-numbered rounds. Hoshino thinks it would be better for competitive balance to have the teams choose in reverse order of their records in all the rounds.

The more rational side of my brain agrees with Hoshino. Assuming the bad teams aren’t bad because of poor talent evaluation, the worst teams would be have a uncontested path to the best amateurs and likely be able to rebuild faster. And I’ve always assumed that the drawing method was used to allow Yomiuri to have a chance at drafting the top amateurs, and that’s always felt kind of unethical. So far I’m with Hoshino.

The more strategic part of my brain, though, kind of likes the idea of introducing an artificial inefficiency into the process. It changes the risk/reward equation. Teams will sometimes go straight to the mid-first-round talent, avoiding the drawings for the consensus top players in an effort to be assured a prospect. Occaisionally teams will go all in and gamble their picks on signability challenges, as Nippon Ham has notably done in each of the last two years.

Overall though, it probably doesn’t matter. The NPB draft is a roll of the dice, and the more successful pros come out of the later rounds (Ichiro was a 4th round pick). Still, the top consensus picks are usually the best prospects, and frequently gate attractions as well. My recommendation would be to keep the drawing, but weighting it so that the teams with the worse records have better odds of securing the contested player.

NPB instituted this rule as a deterrent for players looking to following in the footsteps of Junichi Tazawa, who skipped out on the NPB draft to sign with the Red Sox in 2008. The idea on the table is to give the drafting NPB priority on signing the player if he goes to MLB and later wants to come back to Japan. So if Shohei Ohtani had spurned Nippon Ham and followed through on his intent to play in MLB, and then later wanted to come back, Nippon Ham would have the first crack at him.

My preference, and what I think will eventually happen, is to do away with the rule completely. This rule is just an idle threat anyway; if Tazawa wanted to play in NPB and he could fill stadiums (both moot points currently), I’m sure the NPB brass would let him in.

Pretty much everyone seems to hate the Posting System. The lone exception is a majority bloc of NPB owners, who voted to keep it unchanged in 2010, when Rakuten proposed giving the top three MLB bidders negotiating rights to posted player. For all it’s flaws, the Posting System has pumped approximately $165m in revenue in to NPB over the last dozen years, though the majority has come from three postings: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Seibu), Kei Igawa (Hanshin) and Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham).

Despite the lopsided largesse of it, I think the NPB owners designed the Posting System as more of a deterrent to make it harder for top players to leave than a source of revenue. Players rightfully dislike it because of the limitations it places on them, MLB owners don’t like the expense of it, and some NPB owners feel it makes the league weaker by allowing stars to leave.

So what would be better? Well, let’s focus on the positives of the Posting System, of which I see a couple: it allows NPB teams to get some compensation for players they are going to lose as free agents anyway; it shortens NPB players’ paths to lucrative MLB careers, though at the expense of leverage; it gives MLB clubs full pre-free agency rights to the players.

I argued for an open auction after the failed Hisashi Iwakuma posting a couple years ago, but I think I’ll change my preference to a completely open system, where NPB teams can negotiate openly for transfer fees with MLB clubs. I’d also like to see MLB clubs pay some token compensation (maybe $200k) for signing NPB free agents to Major League deals.

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Nikkan Sports: Rakuten Agrees with Andruw Jones

» 07 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

Nikkan Sports is reporting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles have agreed to a deal with a bari bari Major Leaguer, veteran Andruw Jones. Nikkan Sports estimates the value of the deal at JPY 300m ($3.5m or s0) including signing bonus, base salary, and performance bonuses. An official announcement is expected after Jones takes a physical.

Nikkan Sports is the only publication that has this news right now, but it’s plausible. Rakuten released all their foreign position players after the season and was said to want to make a splash this offseason. They had been rumored to have interest in Manny Ramirez as well.

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Bari Bari Major Leaguers

» 04 December 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

Today’s Japanese word of the day is bari bari. In a baseball context, bari bari is frequently used to describe a big star, like this: “a bari bari Major Leaguer came to our restaurant today!” In English we might translate that by saying “a real Major Leaguer,” but that doesn’t feel quite right. The very useful Jisho.org has a definition that doesn’t quite capture this context; maybe some of the more skilled linguists in the audience can help me find  a better English equivalent.

The Softbank Hawks imported a bari bari Major Leaguer this offseason, signing Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair to a two-year deal. LaHair was coveted NPB teams last winter, but the Cubs gave him a chance to be their starting first baseman, and he responded with a great first half and an All-Star appearance. Unfortunately, he cooled off in the second half and lost his job to prospect Anthony Rizzo, and wound up moving to Japan anyway. But as an All-Star, he commanded a higher salary than he otherwise would have, and crosses the Pacific with the feel of an established Major Leaguer.

LaHair’s move inspired me to write about some of the other players that have moved to NPB after strong performances in MLB. Japan has a long history with MLB veterans, so I didn’t attempt to include all of them (this is the longest thing I’ve written in quite some time as it is). For whatever reason most of the guys I’ve chosen to include were busts. I didn’t set out to make it that way, I guess those just seemed like the more interesting stories.

This isn’t an attempt to compare LaHair with any of these players. Most of these guys were well passed their prime years by the time they went to Japan. LaHair is only 30 years old and fits the mold of being a consistent 3A performer with some upside left to explore.

So with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look back at some of the bari bari Major Leaguers from the years gone by.

2012 Brad Penny: Looking to replenish a rotation depleted by the departures of starters Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and DJ Houlton, Softbank signed Penny to lucrative (by NPB standards) one-year deal. Penny started one game, then put himself in the injured list and eventually requested his release, which was granted.

2011 Chan Ho Park: Park was well passed his prime years as a starter, but in the midst of somewhat of a late-career revival as a reliever when Orix signed him for 2011. Park was a starter in Japan, and looked a bit better than his 4.15 ERA implies, but got hurt after 42 innings and was never heard from again. He moved on to the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO for 2012, where he retired after posting a poor season.

2005 Tony Batista: In late 2004, the troubled Daiei supermarket group sold the Hawks baseball team to Softbank as part of a large reorganization. On their way out the door, Daiei’s management weakened the team by sending 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri in a musho (uncompensated) trade, and releasing 2B Tadahito Iguchi so that he could pursue a career in MLB. Softbank made a splash in replacing them, signing Big Leaguers Batista and Jolbert Cabrera to replace them. Despite his on-base flaws, Batista was an established 30 home run hitter in MLB, and signed for a massive $14m over two years. Batista spent 2005 as the Hawks’ number three hitter, and his .263/.294/.463 line in 2005 was about in line with his MLB career norms. Apparently this wasn’t enough for Softbank, as they released him prior to the second year of his contract.

2003 Kevin Millar: Millar was coming off two very good offensive seasons for the Marlins when his contract was sold to the Chunichi Dragons for $1.2m, with whom he provisionally agreed to play for at about $3m a year. But when the Marlins put Millar on waivers, a procedural move so he could sign his contract with Chunichi, the Red Sox violated protocol and put in a claim on him. After the Red Sox claim, Millar had a change of heart and refused to complete his contract with the Dragons. Chunichi put up some opposition at first, but eventually relented and let him go to Boston, where he continued to hit well and became a clubhouse fixture. In his place, Chunichi signed Alex Ochoa, who spent four years in Nagoya and contributed to two Central League winners.

2000 Tony Fernandez: Unlike many of the players on this list, Fernandez’s move to Japan was unmarred by contract or performance problems. Fernandez had put up strong seasons for Toronto in 1998 and 1999, didn’t miss a beat with Seibu in 2000, posting a .905 OPS. After his season with the Lions he returned to MLB for 2001, closing out his excellent career with a curtain call in Toronto. Coincidentally, 2000 was my first year in Japan, and my reaction to seeing him on TV was “oh cool! Tony Fernandez is here!” I was less excited to see Tony Tarasco playing right field for Hanshin.

1997 Mike Greenwell: In what has become the standard bearer incident for gaijin busts in NPB, Greenwell signed a big ($3m or so) contract with Hanshin, broke his leg seven games into the season, and immediately retired, claiming he got a “message from God to quit baseball” (野球を辞めろという神のお告げ). That’s the way it’s told in the Japanese media anyway. The counterpoint that I’ll offer is that he likely would have missed significant time anyway with his injury, and the “message from God” statement was probably not a great translation of what he actually said. I don’t have the original English quote, but I’m going to assume it was something less literal, like a metaphoric “sign from God”. Mike, if you’re reading this and can clear that up, I would love to know what actually happened. Incidentally, Greenwell’s $3m salary still stands as the most Hanshin has ever paid a foreign player.

1995 Shane Mack (Yomiuri), Kevin Mitchell (Daiei), Julio Franco (Lotte), Glenn Davis (Hanshin), Darrin Jackson (Seibu), Pete Incaviglia (Lotte): In the wake of the 1994-95 MLB player’s strike, a number of big league free agents signed with teams in Japan. The notable moves for me as a teenager were Franco and Jackson, two players who helped my hometown White Sox to an excellent record in 1994. Aside from those two, the under-appreciated Mack was very good for Yomiuri, Mitchell couldn’t adjust to Japan and bolted, and the other guys were mostly pretty good. Amazingly, Franco, despite being 37 in 1995, played another 12 seasons between NPB, KBO, MLB and Mexico.

1992 Jack Eliott: Okay, just kidding. For the real story, see the next paragraph.

1987 Bob Horner: In a season immortalized in text by Robert Whiting, Horner turned to Japan when he couldn’t find an MLB team to meet his contractual demands. Japan Inc. was at the peak of it’s bubble-driven economic powers, and the Yakult Swallows signed Horner for a year at about $2.6m, on par with what the top Major Leaguers were earning at the time. Horner got off to a hot start, hitting six home runs in his first four games, and despite being injury-limited to 93 games, slashed .327/.423/.683. Still, Horner was never comfortable in Japan and turned down a 3-year/$15m deal from Yakult, which would have made him the highest-paid baseball player in the world. Instead he replaced Jack Clark with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he lasted a year before retiring.

1984 Warren Cromartie: In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Cromartie played a very capable outfield in Montreal alongside future Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tim Raines (2013?). He left as a free agent for Yomiuri, where he played seven seasons and became one of the representative NPB players of the 1980’s. Cro slugged 30 or more home runs in each of his first three NPB seasons, and twice batted over .360. He remains revered by Kyojin fans, and still occasionally turns up in Japan for TV commentary and other media appearances.

1974 Frank Howard: Howard signed with the Taiheyo Club Lions (currently the Saitama Seibu Lions) to close out his venerable career. Unfortunately, he injured his back in his first at-bat in Japan and never played again.

1973 Joe Pepitone: Yakult, then known as the Atoms, signed Pepitone to much fanfare in 1973. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Pepitone would up playing only 14 games in Japan. Pepitone now turns up in Shukan Baseball’s annual foreign player issue, mainly as a source of ridicule for his hairpieces and habit of claiming to be injured, only to be spotted at nightclubs.

1962 Don Newcombe, Larry Doby: 1962 saw the first players with significant MLB careers move to NPB, with Doby and Newcombe both joining the Chunichi Dragons. Neither should need an introduction to baseball fans: Doby broke the color line in the American League and is a Hall of Famer; Newkcombe was among the first generation of black Major Leaguers, an ace pitcher and on a path to the Hall himself before alcoholism lead to a premature decline. Doby had retired from MLB in 1959, and hit .225/.302./.396; Newcombe played left field and hit .262/.316/.473. Neither player made a big impact on the field with the Dragons, but they started the trend of MLB veterans extending their careers in Japan, which still continues to limited extent today.

1953 Leo Kiely: The first Major Leaguer to play in NPB, Kiely was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who was drafted into the military and stationed in Yokosuka. The Mainichi Orions (currently the Chiba Lotte Marines) needed pitching help and, in August 1953, signed him to a “part-time” contract that allowed him to appear in games around his military schedule. Kiely went 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 45 innings over six games on the mound, and 10-19 at the plate. In September, Kiely’s assignment to Yokosuka ended, and he returned to the US. Kiely resumed his career with the Red Sox the following year, and NPB’s commissioner enacted a rule prohibiting teams from signing US servicemen as part-time players.

The late Cappy Harada said NPB of the early 50’s was around the level of an American Class C minor league (modern day 1A). The league has come a long way over the last 60 years.

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2012 Fastball Velocities

» 15 November 2012 » In npb » 1 Comment

Let’s take a look at the hardest and softest throwers in NPB over the last season.

+------------+-----------+------------+-----------+----------+
| l_name_en  | f_name_en | pitcher_id | velo_kmph | velo_mph |
+------------+-----------+------------+-----------+----------+
| Mickolio   | Kam       |        634 |    149.47 |    93.42 |
| Kawahara   | Hiroyuki  |        662 |    149.36 |    93.35 |
| Mathieson  | Scott     |        652 |    148.96 |    93.10 |
| Figaro     | Alfredo   |        567 |    148.60 |    92.87 |
| Masui      | Hirotoshi |        487 |    148.59 |    92.87 |
| Castro     | Angel     |        665 |    148.54 |    92.83 |
| Yamaguchi  | Shun      |        206 |    148.17 |    92.61 |
| Zarate     | Robert    |        680 |    148.06 |    92.54 |
| Falkenborg | Brian     |        195 |    147.70 |    92.31 |
| Molleken   | Dustin    |        678 |    147.51 |    92.20 |
+------------+-----------+------------+-----------+----------+

Somewhat surprisingly, Mathieson isn’t the first name on the list. He got off to a slow start and missed time with an injury, but threw all 10 of the 10 hardest fastballs this year. Of the top 50 fastest pitches this year, Mathieson and Mickolio threw 49, with Yamaguchi sneaking on to the list at 50.

Kawahara, Castro and Zarate all threw fewer than 50 total pitches at the ichi-gun level in 2012, but I left them on because I think the numbers shown here are reasonably reflective of their abilities.

Now, on to the slowest velocities of 2012.

+-------------+-----------+------------+-----------+----------+
| l_name_en   | f_name_en | pitcher_id | velo_kmph | velo_mph |
+-------------+-----------+------------+-----------+----------+
| Watanabe    | Shunsuke  |        288 |    117.94 |    73.71 |
| Kobayashi   | Masa      |        635 |    126.93 |    79.33 |
| Makita      | Kazuhisa  |        571 |    128.20 |    80.13 |
| Takeda      | Masaru    |        235 |    128.50 |    80.31 |
| Shimoyanagi | Tsuyoshi  |        261 |    128.74 |    80.46 |
| Hoashi      | Kazuyuki  |        168 |    130.15 |    81.35 |
| Kawauchi    | Takaya    |        664 |    131.16 |    81.97 |
| Koishi      | Hirotaka  |        655 |    131.59 |    82.24 |
| Ohshima     | Takayuki  |        273 |    131.67 |    82.29 |
| Matsunaga   | Hironori  |        313 |    132.45 |    82.78 |
+-------------+-----------+------------+-----------+----------+

It’s no surprise to see submariner Watanabe leading this list by a wide margin. Sidearming lefty specialist Kobayashi beat out submariner Makita for the second spot, so the unorthodox arm angle demographic is well-represented here. Every other pitcher on this list is left-handed.

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Giants Win, Giants Win

» 03 November 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

So, baseball in 2012 has come to an end (aside from the winter leagues and whatever daigaku yakyu remains this autumn). Both MLB’s and NPB’s Giants came out on top, with Yomiuri’s Kyojin-gun closing out the Nippon Series against the Nippon Ham Fighters on the 3rd. The San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers last week.

Normally I would write something about the Nippon Series around this time of year. I watched it this year but was too frequently disrupted to generate any decent level of insight into the series. So, I point you to the very capable Jason Coskrey and his article on how the series wrapped up.

In lieu of deep analysis, today I turn to trivia. This year was the first time that the Giants on both sides of the Pacific won their league championships, but it’s not the first time they’ve played for titles in the same season. Of course, Yomiuri is in the Nippon Series often enough that that’s not much of a coincidence. And here they are:

  • 2002: San Francisco lost 4-3 to Anaheim; Yomiuri swept Seibu. San Francisco’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo became the first Japanese player to appear in a World Series, while Yomiuri’s winner featured future MLBers Hideki Matsui, Koji Uehara and Hisanori Takahashi.
  • 1989: In a World Series remembered mainly for being disrupted by the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco was swept by their Bay Area rival Oakland A’s. On the other side of the Pacific, Kintetsu took Yomiuri to seven games, but the Giants ultimately prevailed. Incidentally, former Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata was in the prime of his career with Yomiuri at this point.
  • 1951: The New York Giants’ 1951 are probably best remembered for Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World which got them in to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees 4-2 in Joe Dimaggio’s final Series appearance. Meanwhile in Japan, Yomiuri played the old Nankai Hawks in the second Nippon Series ever stage. Yomiuri won in five games, their first of 22 Nippon Series wins.

 

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A Midsummer Night’s Blog Post

» 18 August 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

While my baseball consumption has not returned to it’s previous levels, my itch to write has returned, so tonight I’m taking a hiatus from my hiatus to share a few thoughts on the season so far.

  • After years of anticipation, Yu Darvish, has made his Major League debut. The results have been mixed — lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. The walks are a surprise to me; the mid-season struggles are not. I must admit that fate has conspired against me, and I haven’t seen a single Darvish start all the way through this year.
  • Nippon Ham has carried on without Darvish, currently leading the Pacific League by a game over Seibu. 24 year-old lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa took advantage of the hole left by Darvish, and is enjoyed a breakout season. While he lacks Darvish’s eye-popping dominance, a 10-4 record with a 1.91 ERA isn’t too shabby.
  • I never thought I’d see Ichiro traded, but last month it happened. It felt more like Ichiro was on the path to retirement this season, but his bat has woken up a bit with the Yankees. Perhaps playing for a winning time will revive his career.
  • The Japanese Players Association is threatening to sit out next year’s World Baseball Classic if WBC Inc doesn’t give them a bigger share of the revenue. So far neither side is willing to budge. I hope they can work out some sort of agreement because a Japanese boycott would be bad for both sides.
  • I didn’t get to finish my predictions this spring, but every year I think that Chunichi is going to stumble and that Seibu is going to be good. And, every year I’m wrong, at least about the Chunichi side of the prediction. This year was no exception. I thought Chunichi was set for a big step backwards, but they’re comfortably in second place in the Central, and had been in the hunt for first until Yomiuri started to pull away. Seibu got off to a rough start and appeared to be headed for a disappointing season, but has righted the ship and is now in the hunt for a league title.
  • I was going to write something about Brad Penny here but I don’t think I’ll bother.
  • Softbank veteran Hiroki Kokubo announced his retirement last week. Otsukare-sama.
  • Yomiuri veteran and personal favorite Yoshinobu Takahashi slugged his 300th career home run last week. Jason Coskrey has more.
  • The two young players I’ve enjoyed watching the most this year? Hiroshima’s Yusuke Nomura and Yokohama DeNA’s Sho Aranami.
  • While it doesn’t stack up to MLB’s three perfect games this season, NPB has seen a pair of no-hitters this year: Toshiya Sugiuchi’s against Rakuten on May 30, and Kenta Maeda’s against DeNA on April 6. Although, I did not witness either of these games, I did catch a pair of near no-hitters. Another personal favorite, Daisuke Miura, took a no-no into the 9th against Hanshin on May 12, but pinch-hitter Shinjiro Hiyama put up a veteran at-bat, working a full count before finally hitting a long single. Hanshin eventually scored and Miura lost his shutout, but won the game. The other was another Sugiuchi gem, thrown on May 4 against Hanshin. The only solid contact I recall Sugiuchi surrendering happened to be the only hit Hanshin managed, a sharp single, hit mid-game by Takashi Toritani. The game lacked the drama of a late-innings no-hit bid, but was a dominant performance nonetheless.

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